Chapter 29:

Chapter 25. What's in people's minds?

Another Story [Hiatus]

Going to the camp area was a little bit uncomfortable knowing the fact that we are dragging a murderer along with us. Ono made him some kind of sled which we strapped him to, and the horses dragged it behind our cart. He never talks but instead lets out screams, all of which are unintelligible. It occurs to me how he must feel having been caught. The hopelessness on his face doesn't help much either, deciding the fate he is in. Only God knows what will happen. If guards had been the ones who caught him, he would've been killed, because he didn't give any answers during the interrogation. What is it that he is hiding?

I also can’t help but feel pity for the boy, sympathizing with his helplessness, wondering what I would do if I were in his situation. I can imagine feeling scared, hopeless, helpless, out of options. Perhaps I can try to reassure him?

We ride the cart for several hours skimming past the mountains of the western highlands and finally arriving near the little town of Urumia. We ask a few locals where our destination might be and they say that they saw an unusual stream of people going to the eastern side of the town, near the forest.

Urumia was indeed a small town, but the surrounding vineyards show the prosperity of the small number of locals that make their homemade wine. I notice a large part of town was unoccupied, so I thought this were the part of town where the workers would live during harvest time. Wine is expensive after all. I am amazed by the size of the rows and rows and rows of seeming hedges of grapevines. The purple fruit growing out of it, also maturing as it's nearing its harvest time. Some locals checking out the grapes look at us, wondering if we were merchants going to buy their wine or passing by. The first seems to be their favored option as they look at us, hungry to make a sale. We only disappoint them when we all start to wave to them as a greeting, and them waving back disappointedly with a fake smile drawn on their faces.

The camp is large, white tents of all sizes are strategically placed all over a large area of free space. When we arrive, we are greeted by two royal guardsーpart of the one hundred soldiers the kingdom sent with us. They are shocked that we are dragging a sled with someone on it, but we inform them of the situation. It seems that Haila is already there when we arrive. I try to look around if May is also already present, eager to ask her something.

"Oh! Aura, Liliana, Ono, and Andri!," she waves sitting on a log by a bonfire, "You guys are early!"

Well, it's only logical that we are early, given that we have someone in our group that has been time conscious the whole time. We smile back at her and step off our cart. It seems that we are the first students that have arrived.

"Haila, we were attacked," Liliana notifies immediately.

Haila is taken aback, she suddenly becomes worried and her poise changes instantly, "What!," she says. She seems to catch sight of the man behind our cart, strapped onto a wooden sled. "Are you guys alright?"

"We're alright," Liliana goes on, "we got control of the situation quickly, so no one got severely injured."

"Although, Aura was almost killed," Andri points out. Haila seems to become even more worried, "Liliana saved him, though. I also administered him an antidote for the poison he got and checked him for any injuries, which he doesn’t have."

"I see," Haila says, she starts to inspect me, looking to reassure that I do not have any wounds whatsoever. "Are you okay, Aura?"

"Yes," I say, "I am fine now."

"That's good," she replies, "And who is that?," she points at the man tied up behind our cart.

"That's the one who attacked us last night," Andri informs.

"We were planning on giving him to you, because we can't get him to talk," Liliana adds.

Haila calls some guards over to take the boy somewhere, it seems, "Don't worry, we will get him to talk," she says. "I know the right person. For now, you bunch must be very tired. Why don't you all eat something, there is some food prepared already."

As Andri, Ono, and I sit down by a lit fire with a pot boiling some strange meat stew, the guards take the boy assassin off to a distance not far away into some unknown tent. I wonder if he'll be alright. I have a bad feeling about him, somehow. Anyhow, I also see various people arriving from where I am sitting. 'Tis only a matter of time when all of the people from my section arrive, as well as the other section. I know that May's section is also comingーsection one.

"I'll get some bowls, wait for me," Andri leaves for the cart where Liliana and Maerten are talking about something else.

"Ono, I have a favor to ask of you," I ask humbly. He's sitting to my left and is fiddling with some piece of wood.

"Oh," he seems startled, "certainly, what is it?"

Before I get to answer, I suddenly see Mia's group coming back from their journey. They seem to be fine, as they are all talking to each other with jittery happiness. Perhaps Mia has infected the people in her group with her childish nature. "Ah, I'll tell you about it later," I say to Ono, who was waiting for my answer.

"Alright, anytime," he replies with a smile.

When Mia looks around to see who else is there, she soon catches sight of me sitting with Ono by the fire. She waves in my direction to which I answer with a friendly smile. She continues her conversation with her friends and I sit by the fire eating some stew when Andri comes back with the bowls and utensils. The stew has this goaty aroma to it, a smell that I do not necessarily like, but it seems to be really well made as it is soft and the colour is nicely browned by the marmalade that it has been boiled with.

"Liliana!," Andri calls her, as she still seems to be talking to Maerten, only to be interrupted, "Are you eating or what?

Maerten seems to be unhooking the sled that the boy was on, dropping our bags slowly one by one, and he leaves with the cart off into the direction where we came from. Liliana joins us for the stew.

"Where is he leaving to?," I ask curiously.

"I gave him some errands to do," Liliana answers vaguely.

"Oh, I see. Let's eat," I invite her, which delights her. She takes a bowl from Andri and gets her utensils.

We then soon eat in silence, probably weary from the sleepless night. The stew is delicious, it has this nostalgic feel to it. The rest of the group eat bite after bite, making little to no sound. A few people start to arrive from different directions, people that I do not know, and people that are familiar. Slowly but surely, the rest of my division arrives, to my relief. Nothing grave happened to them. They're all safe and sound. It seems that they didn't see me eating by the bonfire, though. They all go with their own groups and stay with them till Haila calls us all in for the briefing.

After a while, finishing the rest of the stew and just resting a bit, when Haila realizes that everyone has arrived, she calls us all into a big white canvas tent,the tent next to the bonfire we are sitting by. Inside the tent are simple tables in each corner and chairs for each member of each section. There is a big table in the middle with a big map of the surrounding area on top of it.

My division seems to have noticed each other and we all greet each other with familiarity. Mia brings us all together into a group hug, which makes my group look at us with gawking eyesーprobably weirded out by our familiarity with each other. Mia lets go after a while, Mimi also backs off a little feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

”Mia, Mimi, Aura! How were your travels?," Jayde asks happily.

"Alright," Mimi answers, still keeping her cool aura.

"Oh my god!," Mia sighs in relief while holding Mimi and I by our hands, "I miss you all!"

"Come on, you four. We have a mission to do," Haila calls us all to group with the rest of the section.

We all gather in a circle standing in front of the big table. I notice the different faces of everyone in my section; some tiredーjust like my group, some cheerful, some are still. The difference between faces shows that we all experienced different encounters. Some of us might've had a smooth journey, some may have had an exhausting one, some a little bit rough, and some may have had a dangerous one. The latter being the one my group personally experienced. It creates this inner conflict within me that maybe this difference of personal experience has a consequence on how people are aware of other people's feelings. I cannot help myself but think about how many people in this silent room are also thinking about the same thing as I am thinking. Are they aware of the people around them? Or are they busy with their own thoughts? Is it even selfish to subconsciously be forgetting about other people? 

"Alright, everyone is here," says Haila, interrupting my rambling thoughtsーprobably for the better. "I see that everyone is all safe and sound, no one missing at least. I will keep this briefing short, but there will be some time for questions later."

Some of us nod in agreement with her statement. She always seems to keep her briefings short but compact. She probably doesn't like talking all that much. Probably regarding the personal talks more than the general group talks.

"I will be visiting each of your group tents later, giving each group your individual missions. As per the group, the group that you came with will be the group you will spend your time with during the duration of this mission."

Some people seem to shake their heads in displeasure of her recent statement. Some people seem to smile in agreement as well. I do not necessarily care, though, with whom I work. Saying that, I mean that both my group and division have both their own merits and demerits. They are incomparable in different aspects. I do understand why she would keep the current grouping, though. Given that this mission is dangerous, it is better that our groups have a member from each strand. This gives it a sense of cooperation when in combat. I can support anyone, Andri can heal the wounded, Liliana can be the vanguard, Ono can build as well as support Liliana on the front line. It is a good call by Haila. In the end, people seem to understand this and the ones who were shaking their heads, seem to have given up and just listen further to her announcement.

"The other students around us are from section one and section two, that's it. We're just the three sections here, so please be careful. Although we are here with some royal guards from the kingdom, do not be reckless. Are there any questions?"

Liliana raises her hand immediately, "What about the second-year and third-year students from the school?"

"This mission is regarded as a mission for the first year, second and third years do not participate; the school basically doesn't regard this as a hard enough mission for them to get involved in."

Haila's last line gives me some thought. If this mission is not that dangerous enough, what's considered dangerous for second and third-year students? Have there been students who died in missions like this? What does the school do if they die?

"Don't do anything stupid!," Haila says, slamming her hand on the tableーprobably slamming that sentence into our heads, "that's all, I'll show you all your group tents later. Don't wander around recklessly, for the time being, just gather your things and put them all inside the tent before the second quarter of the afternoon."

Ine Airlcana
Jio Kurenai